The adventure continues from where it left off in The Adventure of the Cursed Eight 1.8…
1.9 Scarecrows and rituals
While Nala, Lohar and Zal’tat were busy investigating the mysterious murals, the rest of the party pressed on in search of their elusive quarry. Shortly after leaving their comrades, they emerged into a wide hall with a high vaulted ceiling. No engravings adorned this portion of the ruins, but the rock appeared to have been worn smooth through great labour or powerful magic.
At the far end of the cavernous space, Siloqui could barely make out a large marble staircase that climbed upwards towards a large doorway topped by an arch of black stone. All around them, the companions could now see more of the sarcophagi they had encountered previously. These however, appeared to be made of the some onyx-like material.
“There’s symbol on these caskets…but I can’t quite make it out,” murmured Shainarra.
“Allow me,” said Kathra, reaching into her pack and drawing out a stray sheet of parchment and some charcoal. She carefully placed the page on to the smooth surface and rubbed the charcoal back and forth, slowly transcribing the etching.
“It seems to be a rising sun split by a bolt of lightning,” said Thorin peering over the druid’s shoulder. “Are any of you familiar with this mark?”
“I’m afraid that it’s beyond my knowledge,” said Kathra folding up the rubbing and putting it carefully into her bag. “Maybe the cleric could tell us more when he catches up.”
“If he doesn’t trip on anything first,” grumbled Grell moodily, kicking a stray rock.
The companions crept cautiously towards the staircase; Siloqui was always three steps ahead of the rest, her keen eyes scanning the darkness for danger.
“Lass? I think there is something on the steps up ahead. What do you see?” asked Thorin straining his eyes in the dim light.
Siloqui turned and peered curiously at the two shapes lying slumped on the stairs, her head cocked to one side.
“Just piles of old rags…I don’t think-”
She swore and jumped backwards as the two formless masses leapt to their feet and rushed forwards, their molten eyes flaming green in their sack-like heads.
“More constructs!” snarled Shainarra, ducking behind a sarcophagus.
“Let me at ‘em!” roared Grell. He swung on to Bane’s back, his battle-axe whirling eagerly in his left hand.
Wordlessly, the ranger let a rapid volley of arrows fly towards the monster on her right. She smiled in satisfaction as all three hit their mark, forming a tight grouping around the heart. However, her smile immediately vanished as the creature kept moving forward, unperturbed by her attack.
“Careful! They’re impervious to arrows!” she yelled as she ducked underneath the creature’s clawed swipe. She blanched as it stared at her with its fiery eyes; a drop of fear ran down her back and for a second she almost surrendered to it. In a flash of memory, the endless dark nights of lonely forest hunts came back to her and she stared the creature down, an expression of distaste and fury now replacing her shock.
“They’re just sacks of straw!” roared the soldier as he hammered wildly at the second creature. Its clawed arms lashed out at Thorin in crazed whirlwind of destruction and he was hard pressed to hit it. Seeing her chance, Kathra nimbly rushed up from behind and planted a dagger into its back. It took no notice, as its attention and glass claws were currently utterly devoted to the slaying of the older dwarf.
Behind them, Nala and Lohar emerged breathlessly into the cave.
“What in the name of Thelas is going on?” panted Lohar. He turned to look at his companion but found only air.
Nala was already sprinting towards Siloqui’s position, her hands gleaming with scarlet flecks of power.
“Ranger! Use your arrows!” she roared as flames began to sputter on the tips of her fingers.
“That didn’t really work last time!” answered Siloqui as she dashed backwards, evading another deadly swipe by a hairsbreadth.
In one fluid motion, the wood-elf drew and notched two arrows. Carefully she took aim, ignoring the fact that the diabolical construct was almost upon her.
“Fire!” ordered Nala, thrusting her hand forwards and reaching out through the currents of the arcane.
The two missiles flew unhindered from Siloqui’s bow, making for the head of the dread apparition. Halfway through their graceful arc, they burst into flame, as eldritch magic wreathed their metal tips in hellfire. They tore easily into the scarecrow’s head, exploding into twin balls of fire that devoured its flailing shape.
“Well done,” sent Nala telepathically, as she leaned against a sarcophagus to catch her breath.
On the other side of the hall, Thorin and Kathra were still wrestling with their enemy, their attacks doing little to destroy its form.
“Come on lass, it’s weakening!” yelled the fighter encouragingly, as he deflected yet another swipe with his maul. Kathra didn’t answer, but slashed downwards, severing a part of the scarecrow’s leg. The thing was now having trouble standing up and its swings were quickly losing in accuracy.
As the construct hobbled past a sarcophagus, there was a flash of light on metal and suddenly it lurched backwards, its arm now pinned to the onyx lid by a steel dagger.
Thorin and Kathra looked up in time to see Grell come charging forward on Bane, the keen blade of his axe singing in the air rushing around him. Biceps bulged in the half-orc’s arms as he swung his weapon down and up, shearing through the monster’s body and leaving two perfect halves on the ground.
“Done already?” Grell asked from atop the satisfied-looking dire wolf. He peered at the scarecrow’s remains and after a moment moved away, disappointed at the lack of treasure.
In the meantime, Zal’tat had returned to the opening in the wall that marked the entry to the tomb of St. Vornias. The feeling that had pushed him to return was much louder now; he could almost feel the magic stirring within, awakened after centuries of slumber.
He was about to move further into the tomb when a shape floated towards him from the shadows.
“Well I’ll be…,” he murmured wonderingly.
The large leather-bound book that they had last seen resting on St. Vornias’ chest emerged from the passageway and floated in front of him, bobbing invitingly.
Hesitantly, the gnome reached out a hand and grasped the smooth surface. Immediately the book regained all its weight and fell into Zal’tat’s waiting arms.
“Now, what are you?” he mumbled quietly to himself as he studied the large “H” embossed on the cover. Quickly, he abandoned the hallway and moved further into the tunnels.
“What took you so long?” asked the thief as he emerged into the hall. The gnome frowned slightly as he surveyed the scene of battle.
“I stopped to pick up a souvenir,” he said, hoisting the book up and waving it in the air.
“Zal’tat you didn’t…,” gasped Nala, her gaze flying to the passage behind the gnome.
“Hey, hey! I didn’t steal it! It just flew out of the room and landed in my arms; it wanted to be taken.”
“If I had a coin for every time I heard that excuse…,” said Shainarra nudging Siloqui.
“Oh come on, it’s not like that. It really did fly.”
“How curious!” the cleric whispered, immediately appearing at Zal’tat’s side. “An artefact, then; fascinating! I wonder, if I could just-“
“No time, Sapienza. We have an errand to run and I for one am growing really fed up with these dusty tunnels.” Shainarra strode purposefully towards the staircase.
“Nala, could you hang on to it for me?” asked the gnome, passing the tome to the dragonborn, “My pack is a bit too small.”
“With pleasure,” she answered smiling down at the small sorcerer.
They hadn’t gone far before the tunnel curved sharply to the left, the roots of the tree growing low along the arched ceiling. Farther along, they could now hear a soft chanting, punctuated by violent flares of coloured light.
“I think we’ve found our head necromancer, boys and girls,” growled Thorin, peering around the bend.
“How many?” asked Shainarra, clutching dagger in each hand.
“Three. One of those robed cultists, a red dragonborn and a magic user waving his arms over an altar…easy pickings.”
“So, we rush in?” said Siloqui.
“Aye, we have the element of surprise. On my mark…one, two, THREE!”
Things happened very quickly; as soon as they had emerged into the room, the dragonborn called out a warning. He quickly grabbed a satchel off a table and rushed towards the far end of the wall, where a shimmering door had appeared.
“Stop him!” yelled Nala, sending a bolt of magic searing through the air and into the magical portal. “Those are my documents, mold-scales!”
An arrow flew over her shoulder and bit into the arm bearing the satchel, pinning the fugitive to a root hanging from the ceiling, a mere meter away from salvation. The dragonborn roared in pain, his body halfway through the portal; in desperation, he reached into the satchel and grabbed a handful of parchment.
“Close the doorway! I live to serve! No sacrifice is too great!”
There was a sickening crunch and a second later, the portal had vanished, leaving behind a severed red arm dangling from a root. Nala rushed forward and ripped the satchel from the clawed hand, securing the documents within.
A blast of magic flared upwards from the altar to the right and a slow hollow laugh filled the chamber. The hooded figure turned towards the party, revealing a crimson-red complexion marked by teardrop tattoos under scarlet eyes. “Welcome interlopers. You are too late. The ritual is complete. Now, I shall deliver your souls to my Lord. So swears Damakos Onyxborn!”-
The adventure continues in the Adventures of the Cursed Eight 1.10…